49 F.3d 1024 (4th Cir. 1995), 91-7169, Fields v. Murray

Docket Nº:91-7169.
Citation:49 F.3d 1024
Party Name:Gary N. FIELDS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Edward W. MURRAY, Director, Virginia Department of Corrections, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:March 20, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

Page 1024

49 F.3d 1024 (4th Cir. 1995)

Gary N. FIELDS, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Edward W. MURRAY, Director, Virginia Department of

Corrections, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 91-7169.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

March 20, 1995

Argued June 7, 1994.

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ARGUED: Steven H. Goldblatt, Director, Appellate Litigation Clinical Program, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, for appellant. Katherine P. Baldwin, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Atty. Gen., Richmond, VA, for appellee. ON BRIEF: Bonnie Robin-Vergeer, Supervising Atty., David B. Goodhand, Supervising Atty., Bradley T. Kornfeld, Student Counsel, Andrew S. Miller, Student Counsel, Appellate Litigation Clinical Program, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC, for appellant. James S. Gilmore, III, Atty. Gen. of Virginia, Office of the Atty. Gen., Richmond, VA, for appellee.


Affirmed by published opinion. Judge RUSSELL wrote the majority opinion, in which Judges WIDENER, WILKINSON, WILKINS, NIEMEYER, HAMILTON and WILLIAMS joined. Chief Judge ERVIN wrote a dissent, in which Judges HALL, MURNAGHAN and MICHAEL, and Senior Judge PHILLIPS joined.


DONALD RUSSELL, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Gary Fields appeals the district court's denial of his habeas petition, contending that the state court that conducted his trial on sexual abuse charges unconstitutionally denied him his right to self-representation. A panel of this Court reversed the district court's denial and ordered that the writ issue. Subsequently rehearing en banc was granted. We now affirm the district court's denial of Fields' petition.


During the time period relevant to this case, Fields, who is divorced, lived in a trailer home with his mother and his daughter, Deanna, who was twelve at the time. Fields and his mother occupied the two bedrooms in the home; Deanna slept in the living room. Deanna was quite popular with her peers, and her group of young girl friends spent a great deal of time at Fields' home, becoming so closely acquainted with Fields that they called him "dad." Many times during the period at issue in this case they slept over at Fields' home with Deanna.

According to the girls, a regular routine was followed during these sleep-overs. When the girls were preparing to go to sleep, Fields gave each of them a handful of pills, telling them that the pills were vitamins. Some of the pills were vitamins but others, unidentified to the girls at the time, were sleeping pills. 1 The girls would become drowsy and, as they were falling asleep, Fields gave them backrubs. During the backrubs, he frequently fondled their private areas. In the middle of the night, he would often return to the living room where the

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girls were sleeping and fondle them again. On many of these occasions, he would take one of the girls from the living room to his bedroom and rape her.

This sickening routine continued for a number of months. Three of Deanna's friends testified that Fields had raped them during these sleep-overs, with one indicating that she had been raped by Fields many times over a three-month period and another that it had happened on nine or ten occasions. Three other friends of Deanna stated that Fields had fondled them at these sleep-overs, and one of them indicated that Fields had done this ten or more times.

Deanna testified that she as well had been sexually abused by Fields, her father. Once, purporting to explain to her about the birds and the bees, he had taken off her clothes and raped her. In a separate instance, he had fondled all of her private areas. She had difficulty recalling the details of a third occasion because she apparently had taken sleeping pills given to her by Fields.

Fields' routine at these sleep-overs was allowed to continue for months because, as the girls testified, they were afraid to tell anyone about it. Fields' actions only came to light when he babysat for a night for three young children of a friend, Mrs. Shackleford, whose husband was dying in the hospital. Johnny Shackleford, aged ten, refused Fields' offer of sleeping pills and was awake to witness Fields, after spitting on his hands, fondle his ten-year-old sister Julie and his twelve-year-old sister Rose. Johnny afterwards told an adult what had occurred and, when Johnny's story was corroborated by the independent statements of his two sisters and at least four other girls who had attended these sleep-overs, Fields' revolting routine was terminated.

In May, 1988, a grand jury in Newport News, Virginia, charged Fields with six counts of aggravated sexual battery, one count of forcible sodomy, and one count of rape. The Circuit Court for the City of Newport News appointed attorneys Oldric J. Labell, Jr., 2 and James A. Segall to represent Fields.

Prior to the trial, in June, 1988, Fields wrote to the presiding judge in his case, the Honorable Douglas M. Smith, requesting "to be appointed as co-council [sic]." He admitted: "I do this with reluctance since my knowledge of the law is limited," and, as he acknowledged later in the letter, "I have a learning disability and related attention span defecit [sic]." Nonetheless, he wished to act as co-counsel in order to "question the witnesses [him]self" because he "firmly [believed] these kids cannot look me in the eye and lie to me. They have been treated as if they were my own kids [and] call me dad. I know them well." He added:

I do not intend to try and intimidate the witnesses just to get them to say what they think I want them to say. In fact I will if you wish not approach them closer than three feet and I would request the courts [sic] permission if for some reason I needed to get closer. 3

The panel opinion in this appeal added that, in Fields' first letter to the state judge he "felt the complaining witnesses had lied at the preliminary hearing, and that his appointed counsel had not proven themselves capable of effectively cross-examining the witnesses. Fields explained that he needed to cross-examine the juvenile witnesses because only he had sufficient knowledge of the complex events that led to his prosecution to guarantee an effective examination." There can be no question that in this statement Fields demonstrated that the motivation for his motion for the right to cross-examine the children was simply to secure the right to conduct such cross-examination.

On August 16, 1988, Fields wrote a second letter to Judge Smith, this time asking "for a new attorney to replace Mr. Labell [and] Mr. Segall." Fields explained that, for a variety of reasons, he had concluded, according to

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the panel opinion, that his "council [sic] [could not] handle [his] defense." We read his request to act as co-counsel as the only reason for his demand of the right to cross-examine the children. This seems clear from the summarization of this letter by the panel opinion, which said:

Fields complained that he disagreed with attorney LaBell over how to conduct his defense: "Our approaches to my defense ha[ve] been on divergent courses." Fields accused LaBell of wanting "to conduct a defense by burying his head in law books" and of "using legalistic manipulations." Fields explained that he wished to employ a different trial strategy: "My approach has always been to simply get the remainder of the stories from the witness[es] by questioning them myself on the stand."

Approximately two weeks later, on August 29, 1988, after the state court had apparently not approved Fields' request, according to the record, for new counsel, 4 Fields again wrote to Judge Smith, explaining his reason for applying for the right personally to cross-examine the children:

I heard perjury committed [sic] at the hearing and I believe the witnesses would not hesitate to lie again to a stranger. The stranger I am referring to would be any council [sic] asking them questions.

The state trial court held a hearing on September 7, 1988, in part to address Fields' letters. At that hearing, the following colloquy ensued:

THE COURT: What seems to be your problem?

FIELDS: There are several problems, Your Honor. One has been no contact with my attorneys in the past. No verbal contact and--

THE COURT: Well, you indicated to me by letter that you didn't ever want to see him again.

FIELDS: That's true.

THE COURT: So now you're complaining that you haven't seen him?

FIELDS: I had no use for him. If they weren't coming over, what the heck were they doing? And when he did come over, I wasn't asked my opinion on what had happened in the case or how I should be approached for the defense. They had already gone off their paths, and my opinions or my thoughts just weren't relevant in that.

THE COURT: You haven't got a legal degree, have you?

FIELDS: No, sir.

THE COURT: Don't you think these two attorneys are better suited for what ought to be brought up in your case and what ought not to be brought up?

FIELDS: In some respects.

The Court then explained that he would not allow Fields to cross-examine the young girls who were witnesses against him; instead, he could "write out [his] questions and give it to [his] lawyers if [he] want[ed] to." 5 When, at the hearing, the trial judge made it plain that he would not permit Fields to cross-examine the children, Fields responded, as the panel opinion points out, "Well, then, there won't be any justice in this courtroom." This ended the conversation between Fields and the trial judge. Fields' demand had not changed or "evolved." He was still focusing wholly on his demand to cross-examine the children, so much so that he declared

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